Alcohol at Fire Stations Under Scrutiny

In some fire stations across the country, a couple of cases of beer may be found stacked in a fridge. In others, there are neon lights, full caches of liquor and even a bartender.

Although Torrington fire officials are reviewing whether their bar should go, the fire chief there, Dennis Estes, noted that in both of the state's DUI cases, the alleged drinking occurred away from the fire halls.

Hank Coe, a firefighter for 23 years and former Cody fire chief as well as a state senator, said alcohol is only brought out for social occasions, then strictly controlled.

``These two incidences _ though very, very sad cases _ are still very isolated cases,'' he said. ``It's just a very, very small part of what goes on out there.''

Coe and Drake agreed that a ban on alcohol would hurt morale, something Riverton Fire Chief Bruce Drake echoed: ``When you risk your life for somebody every day, you need to have an association, a bond with them,'' he said.

Reed Bush, Arlington, Va.-based co-author of the National Volunteer Fire Council report on recruitment and retention, said there is nothing wrong with having a social hall. But while camaraderie is very important, ``safety takes priority over anything,'' he said.

Rather than sharing drinks, Bush suggests bowling nights or going to professional baseball games and picnics instead.

The fact that any department serves alcohol is alarming, said Jerry Smith, a retired Los Angeles fire captain and advocate for firefighter rights and safety.

``My concern is, what is this doing to the image of firefighters _ the 343 firefighters that gave their lives at the World Trade Center?'' he said. ``These people who think drinking in the fire hall is so important, they're hurting us.''